The International Telecommunications Union head of development Sami al-Murshed has refused to rule out sabotage as the cause of several undersea cable breaks that almost cut off the Middle East from the rest of the Internet in the last few weeks. Speaking to the AFP, al-Murshed while attending a cyber-crime conference in Qatar. “We do not want to preempt the results of ongoing investigations, but we do not rule out that a deliberate act of sabotage caused the damage to the undersea cables over two weeks ago.”
Beginning in late January and running through February 6, five undersea cables connecting the Middle East and southern Asia to the rest of the Internet were damages. It’s virtually unprecedented for so many cable failures to occur in rapid succession, leading quickly to speculation the cables were being deliberately damaged. Undersea communications cables are normally laid outside of normal shipping lakes and at significant depths to avoid precisely that sort of accidental damage.
However, at least one of the cables was damaged by accident: India’s Flag telecom says the cable cut between the United Arab Emirates and Oman was damaged by a ship’s anchor. Investigations into the other four cable failures are still underway, although the cable connecting Italy and Egypt has been restored.
Some experts point out that the resources and expertise required to damage so many undersea cables would be significant. “It’s not the kind of thing that can be accomplished with a scuba tank and diving knife,” an engineer on undersea communications project said on condition of anonymity.
The near simultaneous failures caused considerable network congestion—some of it quickly impacting communication in other parts of the world, and in some cases knocking regions off the Internet entirely. Although remaining connections and alternative communications technologies kept many organizations online (barely), the failures will no doubt spur creation of redundant systems so future failures can be handled with less service disruption.
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